Amid the virus anxiety that has disrupted businesses and supply chains, China’s push into autonomous transport and the future of delivery is getting an unexpected boost. Neolix’s small vans help customers reduce physical contact and address labor shortages caused by lingering quarantines and travel restrictions. Neolix’s inventories have been depleted during the epidemic as its vehicles have been used to deliver medical supplies in hospitals, including in Wuhan, at the outbreak’s epicenter. Its vans are also being used to help disinfect streets and move food to people who are working on the front lines to curb the spread of the virus, Yu said.
“Demand has been surging since the virus outbreak and more importantly, people’s perception toward driverless delivery had a complete 180-degree shift,” Yu said. “People realize that such vehicles can get things done when it is risky for a human being to do so.”
Billionaire Jack Ma three years ago forecast China would have one billion deliveries a day within a decade and that commercialization of driverless-courier technology could provide lessons for autonomous vehicles carrying passengers. Yet there have been restrictions for such vehicles to be used on open roads. During the unprecedented virus outbreak, regulatory barriers are being eased, as roads are empty.
“China’s digital services economy has prospered during the crisis as people shifted to online consumption,” said Bill Russo, CEO of consulting firm Automobility Ltd. “This will accelerate the commercialization of autonomous service delivery solutions. Neolix and others stand to benefit.”
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